Ralph is an 81-year-old condominium resident in Santa Monica. He has severe physical disabilities that prevent him from getting to his front door to allow emergency personnel in. Responders have had to break down his front door twice. The Santa Monica Fire Department recommended that Ralph install a lockbox on the front door. The lockbox would contain a key to the door that the Fire Department and other emergency departments could access with a combination. This sounded like a great solution to Ralph, and he quickly paid for the installation of a lockbox.
The condominium association, however, has strict rules against changing the outside appearance of any unit. The association instructed staff to remove the lockbox. With his lockbox gone, Ralph turned to the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit for assistance. The Consumer Protection Unit facilitated Ralph’s written request for an accommodation and then wrote a letter in support of the request. The letter explained that due to Ralph’s disabilities, and with the history of safety problems with the front door, he needed the lockbox as a reasonable modification.
The condominium association eventually agreed to the exception to its appearance rules and allowed the lockbox to be re-installed.
Ralph and the City Attorney’s Office relied on federal and state fair housing laws that require landlords to allow reasonable modifications for tenants with disabilities. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(A), Cal. Govt. Code § 12927(c)(1); Cal. Civ. Code § 54.1(b)(3)(A). A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises. Failure to provide a necessary reasonable modification constitutes discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(A); 24 C.F.R. § 100.23.